During the medieval period, Norman troops played a key role in deciding the future of Britain and Europe as a whole. What weapons did the Normans use?
Norman troops wielded various weapons. Norman knights carried lances and large, kite-shaped shields, while the infantry was usually armed with spears or swords. Norman armies used archers and crossbowmen, and Duke William of Normandy is depicted wielding a mace on the Bayeaux Tapestry, possibly a sign of his rank.
For more on the importance of the Duchy of Normandy and how its troops were equipped, read on.
The Duchy of Normandy was officially created in 911 CE when Rollo, a Viking leader who had settled on the north coast of France, signed the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte. The treaty granted Rollo the territory he had occupied, so long as he converted to Christianity and defended the coast against other Viking attacks.
Over the following decades, large numbers of Scandinavian settlers intermarried with the local people and assimilated into the Frankish culture. The Normans inherited some of the fighting traditions of their ancestors and were often called upon by neighboring rulers to serve as mercenary troops.
From its humble beginnings in the early 900s, Normandy would play a pivotal role in European politics just a century later. On January 5, 1066, King Edward the Confessor of England died, sparking a succession crisis.
Harold Godwinson claimed that Edward had named him as his heir on his deathbed. Meanwhile, Duke William of Normandy claimed that he had already been appointed as the heir and that, regardless of what Edward said on his deathbed, his claim took precedence.
Harold was coronated on January 6, 1066, but his reign was placed under immediate threat. From the northeast, he faced the threat of a Viking invasion, which he defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on September 25.
As Harold was returning home, victorious, William had arrived on the southern coast with his army. Harold, after stopping in London to gather reinforcements, marched south to meet the Normans.
They clashed at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066. Harold was killed and William was named the new King of England, beginning the Norman dynasty in Britain.
The Battle of Hastings was also a battle of contrasting cultures. The Anglo-Saxon English army consisted exclusively of infantry. On the other hand, William’s Norman army had a large amount of cavalry.
The Norman army was influenced by French military culture. During the reign of Charlemagne, the Frankish Empire had been vast and faced the issue of being unable to respond to threats quickly. Charlemagne’s solution was to employ cavalry, which had not been widespread in western Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire.
This created the first European knights and, by William’s time, they were the backbone of a French army. William’s Norman army was no exception. Both the Norman and English armies had between 5,000 and 7,000 men, and approximately 2,500 of the Norman army were cavalry.
Norman knights wielded lances, which were useful for trying to break through shields and striking at enemies with their superior reach.
Another advantage of the Norman army was its archers, with more than 1,000 present at the battle. In contrast, there were very few English archers at the battle (the Bayeux Tapestry depicts only one to reflect this). As the English strategy was to form a defensive shield wall, Norman archers could launch arrows over the shields to hit the troops behind.
The Norman army also used crossbows. They were a recent addition to European armies and were far slower to load and more unwieldy than bows, but they could also penetrate straight through shields with their extra power.
Spears were the most widespread weapon during the period and were used by both sides at Hastings. Many troops in medieval battles were simply armed peasant levies and the spear was inexpensive in comparison to a sword. Swords were also used but varied greatly in quality, depending on the wealth of the owner. They ranged from plain iron blades to more expensive steel swords.
Norman troops used large, kite-shaped shields. These were carried by both knights and infantry and were large enough to protect the entire body, particularly useful when protecting oneself from archers.
In the Bayeaux Tapestry, Duke William is shown wielding a mace, indicating that the weapon might have been used to signify that he was somebody very important.